It’s a salty Christmas miracle for Drakes Bay Oyster Company — albeit a temporary one.

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The bivalve purveyor in Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco, was set to be dissolved at the end of the year: equipment dismantled, employees laid off, land vacated. This was the plan all along for the feds, who had issued a 40-year lease to the company with the intent of its expiration on Jan. 1, 2013, at which time the land would be returned to federal wilderness and cute scampering seals on the Point Reyes National Seashore.

After the Interior Department refused to extend the company’s lease for another 10 years, Drakes vowed to fight the decision and filed suit. Now it’s reached at least a temporary agreement with Interior. From the Marin Independent Journal:

Under the agreement, the oyster company which has long been a fixture in Point Reyes National Seashore may continue activities involving planting and growing new oysters in the water at Drakes Estero, avoiding layoffs of one-third of its 30 employees right before the holidays …

Under the agreement, the oyster company has withdrawn its request for a temporary restraining order and instead will file a motion for a preliminary injunction challenging [Interior Secretary Kenneth] Salazar’s decision.

A hearing is set for Jan. 25 on the injunction.

Everyone loves them some seals, even in molting season (this is saying a lot, seals), and many environmentalists — the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, other usual suspects — support closing the farm, citing the importance of pure wilderness. But many other environmentalists support letting it stay, and their voices have grown stronger over the past couple of weeks. Writes Earth Island Journal editor Jason Marks:

Wilderness is all too rare (and becoming rarer) and we need more places that aren’t stamped with humanity’s insignia.

But Drake’s Estero is not that place. Having followed this controversy for years — and having spent several spells living in Point Reyes Station, the hamlet at the edge of the park — I strongly believe the oyster farm should stay.

It seems to me the debate over the ecological impact of Drakes Bay Oyster Company is all backwards. The issue isn’t whether shellfish farming is compatible with the ideal of wilderness. Rather, it’s whether a wilderness is compatible with the pastoral landscape that surrounds Drake’s Estero …

A National Academies of Science report from 2009 said the data on oyster farm-related harbor seal disturbance was so thin that it “cannot be used to infer cause and effect,” and called for “a more detailed assessment.” A professor from UC-Davis who reviewed the Park Service’s draft environmental impact study on the oyster farm removal observed that “impacts of oyster aquaculture on birds are speculative and unsupported by peer-reviewed publications.”

Some locals say the feds even took their comments out of context, misrepresenting them as being against the farm when they support it. One kayak touring company said paddling in the estero has only gotten more pleasant in recent years, under Drakes’ new ownership. “Not only have they cleaned and improved the physical location but they offer an educational and historical component that enhances our client’s experience of the area.” The kayakers also said they rely on the farmers for potential emergency rescue.

In the meanwhile, Drakes is still farming and harvesting per usual, and open for business. And if you’re feeling crafty, you can hit up its massive piles of castoff oyster shells and DIY one of these very eco-friendly holiday trees.

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